Enormous Aquifer Discovered Under Greenland Ice Sheet

ice core segment

An ice core segment extracted from the aquifer by Koenig’s team, with trapped water collecting at the lower left of the core.Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Ludovic Brucker

From NASA, I had to laugh at this statement:

The water in the aquifer has the potential to raise global sea level by 0.016 inches (0.4 mm).

That’s assuming it can get out sometime in the distant future. Greenland’s topography under the ice is bowl shaped.

===================================

Buried underneath compacted snow and ice in Greenland lies a large liquid water reservoir that has now been mapped by researchers using data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge airborne campaign.

A team of glaciologists serendipitously found the aquifer while drilling in southeast Greenland in 2011 to study snow accumulation. Two of their ice cores were dripping water when the scientists lifted them to the surface, despite air temperatures of minus 4 F (minus 20 C). The researchers later used NASA’s Operation Icebridge radar data to confine the limits of the water reservoir, which spreads over 27,000 square miles (69,930 square km) – an area larger than the state of West Virginia. The water in the aquifer has the potential to raise global sea level by 0.016 inches (0.4 mm).

“When I heard about the aquifer, I had almost the same reaction as when we discovered Lake Vostok [in Antarctica]: it blew my mind that something like that is possible,” said Michael Studinger, project scientist for Operation IceBridge, a NASA airborne campaign studying changes in ice at the poles. “It turned my view of the Greenland ice sheet upside down – I don’t think anyone had expected that this layer of liquid water could survive the cold winter temperatures without being refrozen.”

Southeast Greenland is a region of high snow accumulation. Researchers now believe that the thick snow cover insulates the aquifer from cold winter surface temperatures, allowing it to remain liquid throughout the year. The aquifer is fed by meltwater that percolates from the surface during the summer.

The new research is being presented in two papers: one led by University of Utah’s Rick Forster that was published on Dec. 22 in the journal Nature Geoscience and one led by NASA’s Lora Koenig that has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The findings will significantly advance the understanding of how melt water flows through the ice sheet and contributes to sea level rise.

When a team led by Forster accidentally drilled into water in 2011, they weren’t able to continue studying the aquifer because their tools were not suited to work in an aquatic environment. Afterward, Forster’s team determined the extent of the aquifer by studying radar data from Operation IceBridge together with ground-based radar data. The top of the water layer clearly showed in the radar data as a return signal brighter than the ice layers.

Koenig, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., co-led another expedition to southeast Greenland with Forster in April 2013 specifically designed to study the physical characteristics of the newly discovered water reservoir. Koenig’s team extracted two cores of firn (aged snow) that were saturated with water. They used a water-resistant thermoelectric drill to study the density of the ice and lowered strings packed with temperature sensors down the holes, and found that the temperature of the aquifer hovers around 32 F (zero C), warmer than they had expected it to be.

Koenig and her team measured the top of the aquifer at around 39 feet (12 meters) under the surface. This was the depth at which the boreholes filled with water after extracting the ice cores. They then determined the amount of water in the water-saturated firn cores by comparing them to dry cores extracted nearby. The researchers determined the depth at which the pores in the firn close, trapping the water inside the bubbles – at this point, there is a change in the density of the ice that the scientists can measure. This depth is about 121 feet (37 meters) and corresponds to the bottom of the aquifer. Once Koenig’s team had the density, depth and spatial extent of the aquifer, they were able to come up with an estimated water volume of about 154 billion tons (140 metric gigatons). If this water was to suddenly discharge to the ocean, this would correspond to 0.016 inches (0.4 mm) of sea level rise.

Researchers think that the perennial aquifer is a heat reservoir for the ice sheet in two ways: melt water carries heat when it percolates from the surface down the ice to reach the aquifer. And if the trapped water were to refreeze, it would release latent heat. Altogether, this makes the ice in the vicinity of the aquifer warmer, and warmer ice flows faster toward the sea.

“Our next big task is to understand how this aquifer is filling and how it’s discharging,” said Koenig. “The aquifer could offset some sea level rise if it’s storing water for long periods of time. For example after the 2012 extreme surface melt across Greenland, it appears that the aquifer filled a little bit. The question now is how does that water leave the aquifer on its way to the ocean and whether it will leave this year or a hundred years from now.”

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Alan Robertson

Maybe they can run a pipe over to the Oglala aquifer, which is being rapidly depleted to water the corn, to make the ethanol…

SasjaL

0.016 inches/0.4 mm?
– And the error margin is …?
How much does sea level varies around the world on daily basis, due to the moon?
– In several places that’s measured in meters with two digits …
.. and the wind?

Jimbo

Has the aquifer always been there?
Could the melt have been caused by volcanic / geothermal activity?

Jimbo

The water in the aquifer has the potential to raise global sea level by 0.016 inches (0.4 mm).

How long will this take?

“When I heard about the aquifer, I had almost the same reaction as when we discovered Lake Vostok [in Antarctica]:

Hmmmm. Isn’t it a bit nippy above lake Vostok. I vaguely recall a recent item about record cold in East Antarctica. I also vaguely recall extreme snow in East Antarctic too.
Abstract – 2 NOV 2012
Snowfall-driven mass change on the East Antarctic ice sheet
CBS News – December 10, 2013
Antarctic temperature hit record low

dccowboy

” “The aquifer could offset some sea level rise if it’s storing water for long periods of time. ”
Ah, so the sea level rise is hiding in the deep of Greenland. I knew it.

Alan Bates
tmitsss

Would it be easier to get to this aquifer or the Moon?

Bill Illis

The glacial ice on Greenland has a temperature of about -31C down to about 1500 metres so this water is not going anywhere. It is just flowing some distance until it refreezes.
The glacial ice starts to warm up below 1500 metres due to bedrock heating until it gets to -2.7C to -3.5C at bedrock which is just enough to melt the ice at the bottom given the higher pressures.
So the water is not going to flow for a 1000 kms to the coast through -31C ice or make it to the bottom 3 kms lower trough -31C ice at higher and higher pressure.
http://s12.postimg.org/d9wzihmil/Greenland_Ice_Sheet_Temps.png
http://i1340.photobucket.com/albums/o728/OlTom67/GreenlandBoreholeTemps.jpg

Teddi

Does everything NASA publishes have to have a reference to global warming ?

Rob Dawg

Why are we wasting time and money on a settled science? Okay, okay. I understand. This is a sign of man made global warming but without more research we won’t be able to blame the usual suspects.
The serious questions are so obvious. Drain the lake and the rebound is? How long would it take?
The one obvious assumption that needs to be addressed: “Altogether, this makes the ice in the vicinity of the aquifer warmer, and warmer ice flows faster toward the sea.” It’s a lake of slush in a bowl. Who is to say the system prevents glacial ice from advancing?

SasjaL these are climate scientists and therefore above such mundane things like measurement and estimation uncertainties.

Rhoda R

I get the impression that researchers are desperate at this point.

Gareth Phillips

The line which puzzled me is the reference to permanent meltwater. Is it possible for meltwater to be permanent ? Isn’t that just called water?

Rhoda R

Please insert the word “getting” between “are” and “desperate”. Thank you.

SasjaL

Teddi says: December 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm
Yes, they will find a way to blame it on global warming, as soon as they find a new object in space … [/sarc]

catweazle666

“the temperature of the aquifer hovers around 32 F (zero C), warmer than they had expected it to be”
Oops…

Oldseadog

Maybe this is where all the “missing heat” has gone.

David Oliver Smith

If “water flows through the ice sheet,” does that mean that CO2 is not permanently trapped in contemporary ice and that measurement of CO2 content in ice cores does not represent the CO2 levels in the atmosphere from indicated time of the ice formation?

Rob Dawg

I knew I remembered it:
http://www.livescience.com/2125-magma-melting-greenland-ice.html
” The newly discovered hotspot, an area where Earth’s crust is thinner, allowing hot magma from Earth’s mantle to come closer to the surface, is just below the ice sheet and could have caused it to form, von Frese and his team suggest.
“Where the crust is thicker, things are cooler, and where it’s thinner, things are warmer,” von Frese explained. “And under a big place like Greenland or Antarctica, natural variations in the crust will makes some parts of the ice sheet warmer than others.” “

Bryan A

Gareth Phillips says:
December 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm
The line which puzzled me is the reference to permanent meltwater. Is it possible for meltwater to be permanent ? Isn’t that just called water?
So long as the meltwater isn’t mixed with other water, I would suppose that it could be refered to as “Permanent” so long as it doesn’t change state. Though refering to it as “Permanent Meltwater” is more dramatically climatic while “Water” is anticlimatic

bob alou

“It turned my view of the Greenland ice sheet upside down – I don’t think anyone had expected that this layer of liquid water could survive the cold winter temperatures without being refrozen.”
Ok, I am just a Petroleum Engineer but having lived in North Dakota, Alaska, and Wyoming for many winters even I knew that water in the liquid state exists under ice, so why is this obviously over- grant- monied id-ten-t surprised that there is water under ice???
The moran must live in the tropics year round and the only ice he sees is in a margarita.
Good thing I live on a hill here in central Texas, man can you imagine what “0.016 inches/0.4 mm” of water would do to my insurance in the flood plain. Guess I need to put my house on stilts.
Why, we have had 28 inches of rain the last 3 months and so far except for the poor souls in the creek bottoms nobody has headed for the mountains.
0/016 inches is how much dew I have to wipe off my windshield when I go to work in the morning. I repeat, Moran! https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=VP75GURTTzmnjM&tbnid=Ujdd9BLKAdcd3M:&ved=0CAUQjRw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fbrotherpeacemaker.wordpress.com%2F2011%2F08%2F01%2F&ei=J7u4UtivI-Tg2gWfuoCYBw&bvm=bv.58187178,d.b2I&psig=AFQjCNGL3vOdREcLPZWv8KxNBTiPQg3Wjw&ust=1387924645910268

That is geothermal energy melting that ice. That water isn’t going anywhere.

Mac the Knife

From the Yahoo news ‘spin’ cycle:
http://news.yahoo.com/greenland-39-snow-hides-100-billion-tons-water-135645076.html?soc_src=copy
“The existence of this rather flavorless natural snow cone has many implications for the future of the ice sheet, some that may make the ice go away faster and others that help keep the ice a little longer,” said Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved in the study. “We would like to understand these implications better so we can help reduce the uncertainties about future changes.”
“Researchers estimate Greenland has lost more than 200 million tons of ice and snow each year since 2003. The ice sheet will completely disappear when the planet’s average temperature rises by 2 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 4 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial temperatures, as predicted by the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in September.
Earth’s surface temperatures are already up 1.3 F (0.7 C) from preindustrial temperatures, with average temperatures rising faster in Greenland.
“This doesn’t change our knowledge that too much carbon dioxide in the air will melt Greenland’s ice, but it will help us make better estimates of how much and how fast,” Alley said.

bob alou

sorry about the link, it did not work as planned. It was supposed to go to the Morans meme pic. If the mod will delete the link and this I would appreciate it. No way to preview a post. Mea culpa.

bobl

David Oliver Smith,
Just what I was thinking… If meltwater flows down, through ice colder tham 0c, then CO2 in ice that melts even transitorially can’t be used to gauge CO2, major contamination there

And this aquifer was not there before?

dccowboy

“It turned my view of the Greenland ice sheet upside down – I don’t think anyone had expected that this layer of liquid water could survive the cold winter temperatures without being refrozen.”
It appears to me that ice fishermen rely on the fact that there is water under the ice in lakes. I’m not sure why anyone would be ‘surprised’ that water survives under the Greenland ice sheet when it survives under the East Antarctic Ice sheet. Last I heard the temps in East Antarctica are a good bit colder than those in Greenland.

Rob

“An ice core segment extracted from the aquifer by Koenig’s team, with trapped water collecting at the lower left of the core. WOW! … “Who knew that there’s water trapped in ice?
Who knew that when you core into ice in a lake that the hole fills with water.
Ever notice how your ice cubes jump out of the glass faster when the water is warmer?
Man oh man how would we be able to handle a 0.4 mm ocean level increase, run run run.
“And if the trapped water were to refreeze, it would release latent heat” ya look out, ever notice how much warmer it gets when water freezes, just like the excessively warm ice ages All that latent heat escaping … wait … Huh? …what …?
THIS IS A JOKE ARTICLE RIGHT?

Walt

The NASA , NOAA, USGS and other gov websites estimate that 80,000 cubic miles of ocean water evaporates each year. This equals 4.6 billion tons of water per second. Global ocean water evaporation for 33 seconds equals the 154 billion tons of water under the Greenland ice sheet.
It seems like enormous means different things to different people.

Bob Malloy.

Listening to Radio overnight in Australia, On a commercial network in the late evening they reported the aquifer could lift sea levels 0.4 mm. Switched to our ABC at midnight where the reported the volume of water trapped in the aquifer would lift sea levels just under half a metre, I kid you not.

dccowboy

Walt,
They just like to use gynormous terms, the better to scare the ignorant.

Jimbo

Two of their ice cores were dripping water when the scientists lifted them to the surface, despite air temperatures of minus 4 F (minus 20 C).

Pardon my utter stupidity but WTF does this have to do with global warming? Since they discovered the aquifer is it just possible they might discover something else??? I say keep looking. The science is not settled, the debate is not over, not by a long shot.
Now check these out.

Abstract – Science 14 December 2001
High Geothermal Heat Flow, Basal Melt, and the Origin of Rapid Ice Flow in Central Greenland
Mark Fahnestock et al
Age-depth relations from internal layering reveal a large region of rapid basal melting in Greenland. Melt is localized at the onset of rapid ice flow in the large ice stream that drains north off the summit dome and other areas in the northeast quadrant of the ice sheet. Locally, high melt rates indicate geothermal fluxes 15 to 30 times continental background. The southern limit of melt coincides with magnetic anomalies and topography that suggest a volcanic origin.
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/294/5550/2338.short
——————————————-
Abstract – 12 September 2011
Mapping Basal Melt Under the Northern Greenland Ice Sheet
Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are based on continental rock and are coupled strongly to changes in global sea level. Their beds may be frozen or thawed, but it has not been known how much or where basal melt occurs, except in special cases where a borehole has reached the bed or where airborne radar has revealed subglacial lakes and reflective ice stream beds in Antarctica. We have used a previously published technique to detect subglacial melt water in the general case and have here applied it to radar-sounder data collected over northern and central Greenland. We have found extensive subglacial water along between 13% and 20% of the flight paths. This paper provides maps of the measured locations and probable extent of subglacial water.
http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6017108&url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fiel5%2F36%2F6133465%2F06017108.pdf%3Farnumber%3D6017108

And on the fringes we have non-volcanic ‘hot tubs’.
Hot springs in Greenland – an Arctic phenomenon

DJ

I’m envisioning a Josh cartoon, scientist in his knees with looming glacier, measuring sea level with a 1″ micrometer (Starrett or Mitutoyo, with .0001″ vernier would suffice) thinking to himself “…. tipping point .017in…. tipping point .017in”
(of course real scientists would use metric micrometers, but more likely those $6 cheapey dial calipers you give the kids in the labs… accurate to +/-1mm)

Jimbo

The water in the aquifer has the potential to raise global sea level by 0.016 inches (0.4 mm)

HEAD FOR THE HILLS!!!!! Even if it all came out now along with current rates I think we can survive 7mm in one year! But it’s in a bowl.
This paper has absolutely nothing to do with man-made gaseous global warming. Nothing. Maybe soot.

SasjaL

Bob Greene on December 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm
I know, it has been obvious for many years now. The numbers of mathematical and statistical errors they produce, would have got anyone throwed out of tech/science (post mandatory) school during the 1980’s here in Sweden … Many so called “proofs” also contradicts things tought in the last three years in mandatory school here back then. Quality of school here has decreased since beginning of the 1970’s, due to the socialists (in some places comfused with liberals).

wayne

NASA’s Earth Science News Bite, 2013:
A team of glaciologists serendipitously found that ice floats on water, even on Greenland reservoirs.
Quote:
“It turned my view of the Greenland ice sheet upside down …”

TalentKeyHole Mole

Water storage in firn is a topic that has been researched by scientists for more that 60 years!
Reference:
Sharp, R.P., “Meltwater behavior on upper Seward Glacier, St. Elias Mountains, Canada,” International Association for Scientific Hydrology Publication 32, General Assembly of Brussels 1951, pp. 246-253, 1951.
The firn is on top, not the bottom! And the study, mostly, is on the southeastern ablation zone between elevations of 1000 m to 1500 m with the depth of firn (radar signature) as much as 20 m in places near one of drill sites. To be firn, snow has to survive (and metamorphose) for at least 2 years.

SasjaL

DJ on December 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm
… $6 cheapey dial calipers …
– Refering to those made by plastics? 🙂
(Sorry to say, metric values are international standard …)

Tom J

“When I heard about the aquifer, I had almost the same reaction as when we discovered Lake Vostok [in Antarctica]: it blew my mind that something like that is possible,” said Michael Studinger, project scientist for Operation IceBridge, a NASA airborne campaign studying changes in ice at the poles. “It turned my view of the Greenland ice sheet upside down – I don’t think anyone had expected that this layer of liquid water could survive the cold winter temperatures without being refrozen.”
These scientists could learn a lesson from the old time Alaskan Highway truck drivers. On what was barely a two lane wide dirt highway these tractor trailer rigs would hit up to 70 mph during the dry summer months. Neophytes to the highway would reportedly panic when they encountered one at that speed; oncoming and at the crest of a hill. Perhaps the truck drivers drove that fast because, before it was paved, a sudden rainstorm could shut the highway down for two weeks.
And that was probably the reason most of the old time truck drivers reportedly preferred the highway during the winter even though temperatures as cold as -60 F or more could be encountered. The road froze over and at temperatures of about -30 F to -40 (Centigrade or Fahrenheit – take your pick) it was as good as driving on pavement. What makes an ice covered road treacherous is the thin film of liquid water on top that can’t permeate the ice. That water can exist in a liquid state down to -30 to -40 F. Below that it can’t and then the ice provides as much traction as asphalt.
Our publicly funded scientists could learn a thing a two about the temperatures water really freezes at from the Alaskan Highway truckers. Or, they could learn it from the tire manufacturers who design winter snow tires with special compounds and micro siped treads to evacuate that thin film of water. Heck, they could learn it from a good bartender who still goes ahead and shakes a freezer chilled gin over cracked ice to get some of that water in the martini.
But, then again, the bartender, tire designer, and truck driver depend on knowing how the world really works. Or they don’t get paid.

Annie

Ermm…where does the water in the snow that falls over Greenland come from?

Alvin

Teddi says:
December 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm
Does everything NASA publishes have to have a reference to global warming ?

Yes.

Gary Hladik

“The water in the aquifer has the potential to raise global sea level by 0.016 inches (0.4 mm).”
I can’t wrap my head around that number. Maybe if they gave it in terms of Hiroshima bombs…

tancred

Here were the money words: “Our next big task […]”
Grant applications soon to follow.

Alan Robertson

Annie says:
December 23, 2013 at 4:27 pm
Ermm…where does the water in the snow that falls over Greenland come from?
______________________________
What difference, at this point, does it make?

Box of Rocks

Alan Robertson says:
December 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm
Dang you beat me to it.
Another spot the pipeline could go is southern California….

Gary Hladik says:
“Maybe if they gave it in terms of Hiroshima bombs…”
I believe in this case the correct units would be ‘in Olympic-sized swimming pools’.

Teddi says:
December 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm
Does everything NASA publishes have to have a reference to global warming ?
============================================================
Yes, because that’s what rocket science is all about.

Mike Smith

0.4mm? Jeeze, Vince can mop that up with a Sham Wow. in a few seconds!

noaaprogrammer

Are there any critters swimming around in that water – like one-celled or more?

Mike Tremblay

“When I heard about the aquifer, I had almost the same reaction as when we discovered Lake Vostok [in Antarctica]: it blew my mind that something like that is possible,” said Michael Studinger, project scientist for Operation IceBridge, a NASA airborne campaign studying changes in ice at the poles. “It turned my view of the Greenland ice sheet upside down – I don’t think anyone had expected that this layer of liquid water could survive the cold winter temperatures without being refrozen.”
———————————————————————
I’m sorry, but that sort of statement by the project scientist who is studying a major ice cap is a profound display of utter ignorance about the subject he is working on and a display of complete incompetence by any glaciologists he is working with.
The presence of sub-glacial lakes had been first theorized over 100 years ago, and was confirmed, first by radio-echo sounding data in the 1970’s, and later, by drilling into Lake Vostok in 2012. To date over 400 such lakes have been identified under the Antarctic Ice cap. The fact that at greater pressures, the freezing point of water can be suppressed below 0 Celcius, coupled with ice being a very good insulator, meaning that the deeper you go into a glacier (or ice cap), the closer the temperature of the ice can be to 0 Celcius, means that inevitably you will find supercooled liquid water – especially as you get closer to the earth’s crust where the internal heat of the earth will transfer directly to the water.

David L. Hagen

Even at $0.50/m3, that 154 billion tons is worth $77 billion. Might be worth tapping mining and shipping it to where it is needed.